A paradigm shift in urban planning

The latest Union budget has promised building 100 smart cities across the country for the neo middle class.

The term ‘Smart City’ encompasses a vision of an urban lebensraum which is ecologically friendly, technologically integrated and meticulously planned.

Such a city relies more on the use of information technology to improve overall efficiency.

The smart cities are supposed to leverage data gathered from smart sensors through a smart grid to create a city which is livable, workable and sustainable.

All the data collected from sensors – electricity, gas, water, traffic and other government analytics – are to be carefully compiled and integrated into a smart grid and then fed into computers with a focus on making the city as efficient as possible.

This would allow the authorities to have real time information about these cities.

This also allows the computers to attempt ‘perfect operations’, such as balancing demand and supply on electricity networks, synchronising traffic signals for peak-hour usages and for optimising energy networks.

The Finance Minister, during his budget speech, rightly mentioned that ‘unless new cities are developed to accommodate the burgeoning number of people, the existing cities would soon become unlivable.’

He informed about the government’s plan to build satellite towns near existing urban areas on the smart city template, to upgrade existing mid-sized cities and to build settlements along industrial corridors.

Rs. 7,060 crore has primarily been earmarked for the purpose which amounts to a little over Rs. 70 crore per city.

The Rs. 7,060 crore corpus is said to be merely the seed money to get the ‘Smart City’ project going.

More funds have been promised once things have moved forward.

Taking it to a new level

Adequate utility services would be critical to a ‘Smart City’ while the design and creation are supposed to be region-specific and not a generalised concept.

The government wishes to take big city living to a new level where 24/7 utility services become essential in public service delivery.

There shall be technology-based governance and monitoring of citizen-centric services.

It is learnt that a high-quality social infrastructure including Wi-Fi zones and recreational spaces would also form the core of the new plans for these proposed cities.

A recent ‘Concept Note on Smart Cities’ by the Urban Development Ministry gives broad contours about smart cities and related aspects like financing and selection criteria.

A ‘Smart City’ would be visualised to have regular water supply and electricity. There shall also be a system of planned sanitation and hygiene services.

The general appearance of the city shall be pleasing and clean.

With an estimated one million people in each of the 100 smart cities, the investment requirements for the proposed urban infrastructures come to around seven lakh crores over the next 20 years.

This translates into a whopping annual requirement of Rs. 35,000 crore.

A large part of the financing for smart cities is seen to come through the public-private partnership with the Centre, states and municipal authorities only supplementing the effort.

The ministry is said to be studying new models and various global cities in North America, Europe and ASEAN countries.

It is also believed to have already started cooperating  with the state governments and has requested them for suggestions and inputs regarding the ‘Smart City’ project.

Reportedly, the guidelines for recognising a city as a ‘Smart City’ are being prepared by the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion.

The criteria includes three of the five infrastructural requirements namely energy management, water management, transport and traffic, safety and security and solid waste management.

A study says that India will need about 500 such new cities to accommodate the huge influx of population from rural or semi-rural areas.

Realising the need for swift urbanisation, the government has rightly come up with the vision of developing 100 smart cities to turn India into a manufacturing hub for its fast economic growth.

The idea behind developing these smart cities is to create highly advanced urban regions in terms of overall infrastructure, sustainable supply mechanism, sophisticated communication and market viability.

Most of these cities would thrive on the accessibility of high quality information to citizens which is an important feature of all smart cities.

Be it city-specific data or the measures being taken by the municipal bodies or various service providers, information has to be conveniently available.

This would be through multi-media channels including internet, mobile applications, radio, TV and print media.

Hence, information technology is supposed to play a critical role in the delivery of essential services to those living in these cities.

A number of state capitals and a few heritage cities with high tourism appeal have already made it to the proposed list.

Indubitably, if the ‘Smart city’ project becomes successful, it will change the face of Indian economy.

So, it is imperative that all stakeholders synergise their act and thoughts to ensure that the project is pulled off successfully with the provision of all the bare minimum urban infrastructures and services to our citizens in order to bring about a much-awaited change.

(The writer is an IAS officer in West Bengal)

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